One of four Minneapolis police charged over Floyd’s death freed on bail

By Sabahatjahan Contractor and Rich McKay

(Reuters) – One of the four former Minneapolis police officers who were charged over the death of George Floyd, a black man whose death in custody set off protests for police reform and racial justice, was released on bail on Wednesday.

Protests flared for a 17th day early on Thursday with crowds in Portland, Oregon, flooding city-center streets with some activists throwing bottles at police and removing temporary security fencing and using it to block traffic.

The former police officer released, Thomas Lane, 37, had been held on $750,000 bail and was freed from Hennepin County jail, sheriff’s office records showed.

He was one of three officers charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter in the 46-year-old Floyd’s death on May 25.

A fourth officer, Derek Chauvin, 44, was videotaped pressing his knee to Floyd’s neck as he gasped “I can’t breathe” and called for his mother before he died. Chauvin was charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

All four officers have been fired from the Minneapolis police department.

Lane’s attorney, Earl Gray, did not immediately return telephone phone calls to Reuters on Wednesday night but Gray has told media that his client tried to help Floyd.

Gray also told the media that Lane was only on his fourth day on the job on patrol duty and that Chauvin was his training officer, whom he should obey.

“What was my client supposed to do but follow what his training officer said?” Gray said in a court hearing, Forbes and other media reported.

Chauvin’s lawyer was not immediately available for comment.

Many of those joining the more than two weeks of protests have been calling for a ban on chokeholds and other methods of restraint used by police.

Police have also been criticized for heavy-handed tactics against protesters in various places. Indiscriminate use of tear gas, flash grenades as well as many incidents of police hitting protesters with batons have been recorded.

The protests have seen fewer clashes in recent days but in Portland, some in the crowd threw bottles at police and cut down a fence near the federal courthouse, police said on Twitter, warning that offenders are subject to arrest. It was unclear if arrests were made overnight, but Portland police tweeted that the crowd dispersed on its own about 2 a.m. local time.

Media earlier reported a crowd of more than 1,000 in Portland calling for the resignation of the mayor.

Protesters in Portsmouth, Virginia, defaced a Confederate monument and toppled parts of the statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. A man was injured when the structure tumbled down, a reporter with WAVY News said on Twitter.

Chauvin remains in jail in lieu of $1.25 million bail. The other officers, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng, remain in jail in lieu of $750,000 bail, each charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.

In Minnesota, pleas are not entered in preliminary hearings.

Lane’s next hearing is scheduled for June 29 and his attorney is planning to file a motion to dismiss the charges, media reported.

(Reporting by Sabahatjahan Contractor in Bengaluru and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Robert Birsel and Mark Heinrich)

‘Ticking time bombs’: U.S. jails raise alarm amid coronavirus outbreak

By Brendan Pierson and Jan Wolfe

(Reuters) – Comparing crowded U.S. jails to “ticking time bombs,” defense lawyers are urging law enforcement officials to release more defendants on bail while they await trial amid the coronavirus pandemic – an approach that has already been adopted by San Francisco and Philadelphia.

The Federal Defenders of New York, which represents defendants who cannot afford a lawyer, wrote in a letter on Sunday that prosecutors should not engage in “business as usual” when deciding whether to recommend jail for defendants awaiting trial.

“Absent extraordinary circumstances, namely cases that involve an imminent threat of violence, it does not advance public safety to add more people to our local jails,” the organization’s director, David Patton, wrote in the letter to federal judges and prosecutors in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

“I truly believe the jails are ticking time bombs,” Patton said.

Patton told Reuters on Monday that his office had filed several motions asking that incarcerated defendants be released because of the coronavirus.

The Bureau of Prisons (BOP), which runs federal prisons and jails, had no immediate comment. On Friday the BOP announced a suspension of visits and inmate transfers, among other measures to contain the virus, saying it was coordinating with experts inside and outside the agency.

Public defenders in Minnesota are making a similar push to keep clients awaiting trial out of jails, which some experts say are particularly susceptible to contagion because of crowding, unhygienic conditions, and the constant turnover of detainees.

“All of us – every position – need to work together to get our clients out of the jails,” Minnesota’s chief public defender Bill Ward said in an e-mail to colleagues obtained by Reuters and first reported by the Star-Tribune.

The requests comes as law enforcement officials debate how to limit the spread of the coronavirus among the millions of people in jails, prisons, immigrant detention centers, and other facilities around the country.

Magistrate Judge James Orenstein in Brooklyn on Thursday refused to jail a man who was under house arrest, even though the defendant had failed drug tests while awaiting trial for possession of methamphetamine.

Orenstein said that sending him to Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) would pose a “risk to the community” in light of the outbreak.

“Our community includes the people incarcerated at the MDC, those who work there and those who live and interact with those who work there,” Orenstein said at a hearing, according to a transcript. “And let’s not kid ourselves. The more people we crowd into that facility, the more we’re increasing the risk to the community.”

In Manhattan federal court, a lawyer for a man awaiting trial in jail for attempted sexual enticement of a 12-year-old girl on Sunday asked a judge to release him on bail, even though he was arrested last year while under home confinement after cutting his ankle monitor.

“The courts have long recognized that there is no greater necessity than keeping a defendant alive, no matter the charge,” the lawyer, Sylvie Levine, wrote.

Prosecutors opposed the request on Monday, saying the man posed too great a danger to the community and was likely to flee.

Some law enforcement officials already have indicated that they will work with defense lawyers to reduce jail populations.

San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin last week directed prosecutors to refrain from opposing motions to release defendants facing misdemeanor charges or drug-related felony charges provided the person posed no threat to public safety.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner is also revising his office’s policies and advising prosecutors only to make specific bail requests in serious cases, including gun and domestic violence cases, a spokeswoman confirmed. The revisions were first reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Critics say such an approach could lead to an increase in crime.

Public defender organizations are “using this emergency to push their agenda,” said Richie Greenberg, a businessman who ran for mayor of San Francisco in 2018, in an interview.

“Once prisoners are out they are gone. They all become potential fugitives,” Greenberg said.

(Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York and Jan Wolfe in Washington; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Christopher Cushing)

Zimbabwe pastor’s bail bid deferred; Amnesty says children being held

By MacDonald Dzirutwe

HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwe’s High Court deferred until next week a decision on whether to free an activist pastor detained over violent anti-government protests.

Evan Mawarire, who led a national shutdown in 2016 against Robert Mugabe, is accused of stoking the unrest which was countered by a violent crackdown reminiscent of the actions of security forces under the former president.

Prosecutors argued against the bail application, saying Mawarire posed a flight risk and could re-offend if released.

Judge Tawanda Chitapi said he would rule on Tuesday but hinted he could ban Mawarire from posting videos similar to the one that the state says encouraged unrest until the trial is over.

Protests erupted in mid-January following a hike in fuel prices and lasted for several days.

Security forces dispersed demonstrations by force and cracked down on activists, leading to fears that President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government is reverting to the strong-arm politics seen during Mugabe’s 37-year rule.

Amnesty International said children as young as 11 had been detained along with hundreds others.

“The authorities must immediately stop this merciless crackdown on activists, civil society leaders and others who are guilty of nothing more than exercising their right to freedom of expression,” Amnesty’s Deprose Muchena said in a statement.

“The authorities must ensure that those who violated and continue to violate human rights face justice.”

Zimbabwe’s independent Human Rights Commission has accused security forces of systematic torture. The opposition says soldiers are apparently able to shoot and kill without being held accountable. An official inquiry said the army shot civilians to quell post-election violence last August.

Mnangagwa, who replaced Mugabe after a de facto coup in November 2017, promised this week to investigate security services’ actions against protesters.

Courts in the capital Harare and other towns heard cases of more than 100 people accused of public order offenses linked to the demonstrations, lawyers said.

Mawarire, who denies the charges remains in detention at Chikurubi Maximum Prison in Harare and was not present at Friday’s hearing.

Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions Peter Mutasa, who called for a peaceful stay-at-home strike in a video post with Mawarire, presented himself to police in Harare in the company of his lawyer. The union’s secretary general is already detained on subversion charges.

(Editing by James Macharia and Robin Pomeroy)